A tweet yesterday by Waitemata Local Board member Graeme Gunthorp highlighted one of the (many) problems right now with Auckland Transport, their lack of understanding of the wider vision and designing narrowly scoped projects.

https://twitter.com/GraemeGun/status/1492982290364116992

He went on to say

I am so angry.

Auckland Transport simply does not understand the transformation that Council, Governing Body, Local Board, Residents Group is trying to undertake in the city centre.

I understand budgets are tight. I understand that freight and deliveries need to happen.

But I do not understand why multiple 5 lane highways should destroy the highest density suburb in the country. There’s families, kids, vulnerable folk who need safety and amenity.

So unless the project team have a good roadmap for when and how the de-tuning is going to happen, I plan to take the nuclear option and bring in every senior political leader I can to oppose this ludicrous band-aid on cancer.

Here are the images from the tweet.

I’m going to take a guess that what AT are primarily looking to address here is responding to the safety issues on these streets.

Back in 2019 AT made the decision to lower speed limit on most streets in the city centre to 30km/h. Following lobbying from groups like the AA they also made the decision to only lower the limit on these three streets to 40km/h. The board were told the speed limit changes would cost AT about $5-10 million more (a 30-60% increase in implementation costs) as these roads would need “enhanced engineered safety features” to ensure the new speed limits were achieved.

But AT never did anything to actually deliver those safety features so it’s completely unsurprising that people haven’t slowed down, something highlighted in September’s monthly board report under the title of “Safe Speeds – Hobson, Nelson and Fanshawe Streets

Speed limits on the majority of City Centre roads were reduced to 30km/h or less in June 2020. A 30km/h speed limit was selected as evidence suggests this is a survivable speed for people hit by vehicles.

Speed data suggests that on some city centre roads the new speed limits are not being adhered to on these corridors. Higher speeds on these roads, combined with the high presence of people outside of vehicles, increases the risk of deaths and serious injuries (DSI), and on that basis. AT plans to introduce engineering measures to improve safety.

It’s critical that AT make these safety improvements, however, like we’ve seen on other projects, due to limited budgets and scope AT seem to be ignoring the wider vision and opportunity for transformation.

In particular the City Centre Masterplan calls for Hobson and Nelson Streets to become “more liveable, green twin avenues” and to achieve that through the following outcomes

  • Reduced vehicle traffic
    Reduction in the number of vehicle lanes and turning movements at intersections, possibly followed by transition to two-way travel in some sections of either or both streets.
  • Easier and safer walking
    Wider footpaths, greater pedestrian wait room and priority at intersections and increased mid-block crossings to make walking easier and safer along and across the long and wide street blocks.
  • More cycleways
    Retention of separated cycle lanes on Nelson Street as a key part of the emerging network and opportunities for new cycleway linkages on Hobson Street unlocked by changes to traffic access and circulation.
  • Strengthening street trees
    Strengthening of the existing street trees as a positive feature of both streets and new opportunities to add surface greening that enhances liveability and the environment and create more distinctive, green city avenue street types.

As I see it, while the things that AT are focusing on are needed, not many of them address the outcomes sought by the CCMP. What’s more, the rest of those CCMP outcomes are being left to some other project to deal with at some unknown time in the future – which may end up undoing all the work this project is looking to deliver. Wherever possible we should be looking achieve what is actually in our plans otherwise it could be decades before anyone wants to bother looking at it again. Furthermore, many of the best ways of dealing with the things AT are looking to address would be achieved if they just delivered on the CCMP outcomes.

Perhaps the most galling part is that AT acknowledge there are these other issues with the street, including issues of personal safety and are choosing to ignore them. A safety project that isn’t delivering safe cycling infrastructure as part of it isn’t really a safety project.

Then there is the suggestion that AT can’t make too many drastic changes due to the “need to retain the arterial and over-dimension function of these roads”.

There’s nothing that says an arterial has to be 4-5 lanes of vehicle traffic – as seen on almost any other arterial in the region. In addition, when it comes to Hobson and Nelson Streets they’re not even part of an over-dimension route.

As for Fanshawe St, traffic from the motorways has fallen significantly since the over the last 15 or so years following the changes made to the central motorway junction in the early 2000’s. There’s more than enough room for a bit of road space reallocation while still retaining an ‘arterial and over-dimension’ function. How is Fanshawe also not a ‘poor link’ on the cycleway network?

I get we can’t make every minor project solve all issues but at the least AT should be looking to how a project like this can form the first stage of a wider piece that will deliver the vision of the City Centre Masterplan.

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72 comments

  1. The Nuclear Option. Yes. Graeme, good. This has gone on far too long. There’s no alignment here between AT’s plans and the GPS. There’s no attempt here by AT to follow the CCMP. They pretend it’s something they don’t have to give regard to.

    And for years we’ve heard that it’s WK who stop any changes to the local road network if it’ll impact their motorway. Well. I don’t believe it any more. I don’t see WK being obstructive. All I see is AT not even trying.

    So on the one hand we have AT thinking that reducing emissions requires government action – and convincing Goff it’s all about vehicles (see Goff’s hopeless answers in this interview https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/127747127/how-much-climate-change-action-do-you-get-for-1-billion ) and on the other we have AT refusing to do the projects that would reduce emissions.

    1. I spoke to Waka Kotahi yesterday and their unofficial line was that they are not stopping AT doing anything.
      I am speaking to the AT project team today (ahead of the working group meeting tomorrow) so will see where things are.

      1. The Auckland City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) is absolutely clear about the vision for Hobson and Nelson Streets.

        https://www.aucklandccmp.co.nz/opportunities/hobson-and-nelson-streets-more-liveable-green-twin-avenues/

        The Masterplan envisages:

        • reduced vehicle traffic
        • reduction in the number of vehicle lanes and turning movements at intersections
        • wider footpaths, greater pedestrian wait room and priority at intersections
        • increased mid-block crossings
        • more cycleways
        • new cycleway linkages on Hobson Street
        • street trees
        • new opportunities to add surface greening

        This vision is agreed politically and based on extensive consultation and engagement. It also continues the 2012 CCMP vision. This should shape the work in Hobson and Nelson Streets.

        1. Although AT don’t seem to have done anything to implement the plan, it seems to me that reduced vehicle traffic is happening anyway – or is that just my impression due to Covid induced changes?

          I assume that SkyCity is a key destination for traffic on these streets and given the $33m loss they made, traffic must be significantly down.

          Hobson and Nelson are infamous for poor quality apartments, personal safety issues, ‘traffic sewers’ and yet seem to have so much potential, starting with reducing general traffic lanes.

          The old City depot looks like a huge chunk of land that could be an amazing city space.

  2. Cycleway is not a priority for the external stakeholder!

    This is clear that the culture need to be changed to make a cycleway a top priority.

  3. Admittedly those big roads are a throw back to when the CBD was in its heyday. It’s in decline, has been for years and the decline looks terminal.

    Having said that, can the expense for street transformation be justified for a place that is becoming a backwater? I don’t think so. Auckland ratepayers must not foot the bill for the bottomless CBD money pit because it’s obvious the Council aren’t exactly encouraging Aucklanders to come to it!

    1. By decline you’re referencing the record numbers of jobs, residents and people entering the CBD every day?*

      *Once the pandemic clears up

      1. and by decline:
        Doubling in population in the ~10 years pre covid to 40,000 in early 2020. A growth rate 6 times what the rest of Auckland had. The 10% growth in jobs over that same time to 100,000.

        The city center was in one of the largest construction booms in the western world at the time. Absolutely massive private construction rates and the largest transport project in the countries history.

      2. Matts Fanshawe St on/off ramp graph sums up nicely what I see, there is a sizeable decline in traffic in and out of the city, and although empty retail space and dying hospitality is shared universally, the CBD is a shadow of it’s former self.

        Plus for being the “highest density suburb” in the country, you’d think it’s self sufficiency would have made it more immune from the above than outer suburban centres but it didn’t.

        It’s not a criticism, just a practical observation and I’m suggesting expenditure needs to match the new reality, which is decline.

        1. Link – have you been to the CBD in the last 10yrs? Growth, construction and general regeneration has been phenomenal.

        2. I guess you haven’t been to the city in 10 years or more then. You need to visit Quat Street/Downtown, Wynyard Quarter, Britomart, the laneways around High Street and of course the Viaduct, not to mention Karangahape Road. There has been massive money spent beautifying these areas and there are plenty of people using them. Once Aotea Station and surrounds are complete, the same will happen for midtown. There are record numbers of people using and living in the CBD, but most don’t choose to go there by car any more because there are better options. I think you went to sleep in the 1980’s and only just woke up now without realising anything had changed.

        3. I think it depends on which part you visit. Hobson and Nelson Street have barely changed in the past 10 years. (apart from a bike lane that mostly serves people bypassing this area)

        4. Just looking at traffic volumes on fanshaw decreasing and assuming that means less people coming into the city ignores the huge patronage numbers on nx services.

        5. Strangely enough I go there most days, the place is not happening. Hence I know what am talking about,. Yourself?

          It’s a shadow of its former self. You can cross any road with ease virtually any time such is the lack of activity. And it was dying before we ever heard of Covid.

          Hence closure of businesses, all around.

          But if you want, and to support the thread to encourage Auckland Council to pour yet more money in, yep, I’ll pretend it’s crazy busy, gridlocked, Manhattan like shoulder to shoulder pedestrians and alive!

        6. Difficulty crossing a street is a measure of how much nuisance there is from driving cars through that street. It is actually a bad thing if you can’t easily cross streets.

          The measure you’re after is how many people are walking there. But I am assuming that number is down too.

        7. Aotea station will be the busiest station in New Zealand when it opens. This will bring thousands of people to the area around Hobson and Nelson Streets. Yet another reason to prioritise pedestrians – there will be a lot more of them when CRL starts carrying passengers.

        8. I also worked in the city every day for many years prior to the last lockdown, and it was extremely busy every day, plus the bars were always packed after work and so were the lunch places at lunchtime. But I worked in the Downtown area, if you work at the edge of the city centre you might not have seen the crowds. Also, it is possible to have selective memory. This is our third year of the pandemic and it seems like it has always been like this.

        1. Business district is still reasonably accurate. There are only a dozen or so blocks with a significant population in the city centre.

        2. It’s an important distinction because a “CBD” is somewhere that people travel into at 9am, leave at 5pm and the transport system facilitates that movement. In this respect Hobson and Nelson Streets’ layouts are spot-on.

          40,000 people live in Auckland city centre and the street designs need to reflect this by inviting people into the public realm. Hobson and Nelson combine the highest residential densities with the least inviting pedestrian environments.

        3. The Auckland city centre is the greatest concentration of residents in the whole country, by that measure it’s more residential than any residential suburb.

          It’s also New Zealands greatest concentration of retailing, the greatest concertation of food and beverage, the greatest concentration of hotels, and the greatest concentration of university students. There are more tertiary students in the Auckland city centre than there are in the south island!

        4. What I mean is this: if you look at the city centre on a population density map, you see that most of it isn’t particularly densely populated. But it has a few small areas with very dense population. This is especially the case downtown, and west of Queen Street.

          On Nelson Street you have the city works depot with its large surface parking lot on one side, and a block of very densely packed apartments on the other side. And also, there are almost no businesses on that block of apartments. Isn’t that weird?

          What seems to have happened is that for some time, it was in fact a business district but it somehow ended up with a few residential enclaves. Those enclaves are now very densely populated.

          “and the street designs need to reflect this by inviting people …”
          Yes. I guess we’re all waiting for the council to figure this out.

        5. Yes language matters. Nit picking about which areas are more business than residential – not so much. City Centre includes everyone. Easy enough.

    2. I find this kind of cynicism is often accompanied by the NIMBY-ism that caused every major social service to be clustered in the CBD and away from the suburbs in the first place, forcing a concentration of people who are homeless and needy into one place.

      You can do your bit to improve the CBD by asking your city council representatives to expand social services in your street and area, to reintroduce halfway houses in your suburb, and by accepting people who are different from you instead of demonising them.

    3. Thousands of people visited both the recent Mary Quant and Michelangelo exhibition in the city. Catch the train to Britomart

    4. Errr, its the most populous suburb in New Zealand. Not really sure what you define as a backwater. Besides, if it is then surely we don’t need the massive roads.

  4. This is hopelessly unambitious. And those charts aren’t much help.

    “Traffic issues can impact VRU’s” not ticked for Fanshawe St? Traffic issues there include bad network design that means traffic comes off the motorway too fast, and bad system enforcement that means bus drivers shoot the red light, putting VRU’s at risk.

    “Unsafe driver behaviour” not ticked for Nelson St? What do AT think the drivers turning over the cycle lane, on a red turn arrow, is – if not “unsafe driver behaviour”.

    Each of the three streets basically has all the problems. And in general, issues “in scope” and “out of scope” should be presented on the same chart – not shown in a different chart. It’s muddy presentation.

  5. It is inept to send out an agenda setting out a foregone conclusion. Surely every competent bureaucrat knows they get them in a room, let them all sound off then write up the foregone conclusion after the patsies have left. Now their meaningless consultation will take twice as long.

  6. There are now more residents in the city centre than morning peak private car commuters.

    So, the vast % of the space is given to suburban car commuters.
    Those streets are the most dense residential streets in the city center.
    There are overall more CC residents than suburban car commuters. Let alone on those streets.
    Those streets are built to handle more demand than they experience today.

    And AT is out here planning to retain the oversized car capacity? How is that remotely justifiable?

    https://www.ccrg.org.nz/city-centre-facts

  7. Starting to wonder whether John Tamihere and his 500 lane bridge might have been a better vote, with his promises to get rid of AT etc.

  8. I often think about applying to work at AT (there is alwasys jobs advertised); but then tibits like this come to mind and I just cant justify the mental anguish of actually working for AT.

    1. Same. From outside the organisation it looks like it’d be a quick path to disillusionment and burnout. Not worth it unless you have the experience to come in at a senior leadership level and start pushing genuine culture change.

    2. I got as far as being offered an interview for a mid-level role, albeit 4 months after I applied. It was an inane system whereby I had to submit a video of myself answering whatever questions the computer was going to fire at me. I would have declined (both because I thought the process was inappropriate and I had long accepted another job), but the email they sent didn’t offer that option. Eventually a slightly perplexed recruiter reached out to ask why I didn’t send them my best YouTube influencer impression and I simply said I had accepted another job more than three months ago.

      So as it turns out I couldn’t even bear to go through their standard recruitment process. I would be worried that it’s just a taster of how frustrating it is to work there!

      1. Those video interview questions are increasingly popular. My flatmates have had to do several, all in tech. Think it’s contained to large firms.

      2. Think I have posted my experience on here before, but quite a few years ago, I applied for a job with AT on their Thales Hop card rollout, as I had smartcard experience including developing the backend for a national rollout and experience with large scale CRM/Billing systems.

        Final interview in person with three senior people. Feedback was that while technically I was excellent (and had passed through earlier stages of the process), but that they were concerned that I was politically naive for the role. They were correct, as I generally push for what is right and articulate that (politely) rather than just shut up and do what I am told.

        They decided that they did want me, but in another more technical role that was going through business case approval at the time and they couldn’t tell me too much. Turned out to be on the national transport card team which was combined with other organizations.

        Months went by, and they reached out to me to tell me they still wanted me for the role, but it was taking some time to get through the stage-gates. That was years ago, and I didn’t bother to remain in contact as I had landed a better paying job that had the bonus of international travel pre Covid

        I can’t imagine that with employment processes like this, they get the best people when good people get snapped up very quickly these days.

        1. GrantB, that sounds incredibly frustrating and not respectful of your time and knowledge. I had the same thought about them losing the best candidates by drawing it all out.

  9. Nelson and Hobson always seem to be in the “we will do something in a few years” category (probably with no intention of doing anything at all or the Hosk will stand in the middle for a photo shoot). Seems crazy to be spending money on Queen Street which wasn’t really that bad while these two are about as awful as you can possibly get and a real embarrassment for the city and for AT.

    1. There’s always some huge mega-project with a delivery timeframe longer than an economic cycle (of old anyway) of +7 years that is obviously never going to happen – not just because of fiscal prudence, but because the Auckland I die in will look exactly the same as the Auckland I live in, no matter when it actually happens.

      We are incapable of place-changing projects as anything but make-work schemes for analysts and project managers.

  10. The highest density neighbourhood in the country, absolutely f-ing right. Good on you Graeme, Shame on AT. What a disgrace. As someone who has recently come home after 12 years away, with the current state of the CBD, I despair……

  11. Nelson, Hobson and Fanshawe are headache streets for achieving transformation, but they do need that radical shift. Fanshawe/ Custom has major PT function, as well as active modes, service and delivery and the few remaining cars – but the speed of those cars needs to be reduced, while not obstructing the other users. Nelson, being downhill, with bike path, with crossing demand mostly at intersections and funneling cars (supposedly) into Sky City/ National Convention Centre (remember that) has a really difficult detuning/slowing task. Hobson should be easier, with uphill traffic taking city centre residents away from town (if they can afford to work where only owning a car will take them). Don’t think that there are many people in AT who don’t want to see these changes, but major project funding is hard work. Now is the time to plan what happens after Victoria and Wellesley.
    Staying arterial and providing construction plant access with OD routes for city building works does not mean that the CCMP outcomes can’t be met – OD is just an envelope to work with. 30 km/h arterial would certainly be good, if we can find ways to make that a reality.

    1. What’s your view on freeing up funding for these projects by
      – cancelling projects that don’t create mode shift or reduce traffic, eg all the projects that are ‘intersection improvements’ of the conventional type… adding a bit more length of turning lane here, smoothing the radius of the corner there, etc, and
      – reducing the cost of projects by allowing more road reallocation?

      Is there much awareness in AT that each traffic which uses road reallocation makes the next project easier because it has less traffic to contend with? If the numbers of lanes on K Rd and Victoria St had been reduced, for example, things would be easier now. Similarly, there’d be multiple knock-on beneficial effects in each subsequent project if we can have a substantial reduction in the number of lanes on Nelson, Hobson and Fanshawe Sts.

      I suppose I’m saying that although you’re right that a radical shift is needed now on these streets, AT can see this not only as delivering what’s required here, but also as a way to help to break the back of the problem, leading to easier and easier projects elsewhere over time.

  12. The CBD should be cut into a number of precincts with parking buildings in each precinct and no ability to move between precincts except by foot, cycle, micro-mobility and appropriate CBD shuttle buses.

    This is the only way to deal with excess traffic in the CBD and the need to retain high capacity. (Congestion tolls will only deal with arterial traffic to and from the CBD during peaks not CBD activity itself)

    The over-dimension routes can go around the edge of the CBD, with access to the CBD by permit only.

    This way the amenity gains everyone is seeking can easily be achieved.

    1. I hope that you are not advocating for the construction of more parking buildings when the low price of parking suggests there is already an abundant supply.

      1. No. All parking should be dynamically priced.
        The advantage of parking buildings or vertical parking structures is that they allow on-street parking to be removed and returned to the public realm and/or used for the safe movement of peds/cyclists & micro-mobility device users.

        1. Public transit services allow on-street parking to be removed. A far more appropriate investment than more carparking buildings.

  13. Hobson/Nelson are more effective for pedestrians as one-way streets. New York was able to put cycle lanes everywhere because the whole city is a grid of one way streets. They just need to remove a few lanes. Instead of 5, they should have 3, with one lane being a bus lane. The space gained could be wider footpaths or cycle paths and whatnot. But one-way streets are much better for pedestrians because crossing delays are much reduced compared to two-way roads.

    However, you do need a wide enough road in order to service all the tall buildings in the CBD. Large Cranes need space to set up in order to do various maintenance work on the roof and what not. If the road isn’t wide enough, then you have to close the whole road or footpath.

    1. Returning one-way streets to two-way *can* be advantageous, but it’s by no means inherently “better”. It also costs a lot of money.

      One-way systems can be combined with two-way protected cycleways, bus contraflows, etc. The signal phases are simpler and it makes junctions less complicated for all users.

      I’m not saying that one-way couplets are necessarily a good idea, but they aren’t always the worse option. New York has shown how to use them well.

      It’s not Auckland “CBD”. It’s the city centre.

  14. I would just get the council out of the parking game and stop them undercutting the market and driving (pun intended) the price down.

    Then implement A4E. You might not even need congestion charging after that.

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